Latest Review – Hospital [60th BFI LFF] [Debate]


A Film By Frederick Wiseman

Genre: Documentary • Year: 1970 • Country: USA • Running Time: 84 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 • Image: Black & White • Language: English


In keeping with the voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall approach demonstrated in all his works, master documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s 1970 film Hospital turns its gaze on the emergency ward, operating theatres and outpatients clinics at one of New York’s largest medical institutions, Manhattan’s Metropolitan Hospital Center, for a revealing and often tear-jerking look at the activities and lives of the vast number of staff and patients within.

In his own distinctive and inimitable style, Wiseman captures not only the honest, morally principled medical staff, but also the intrusive administrative processes and social conditions of the contemporary world.

Through a variety of contrasting cases and situations – some hilarious, many very moving – Wiseman looks at the medical expertise and resources available at the time; he highlights the fact that this intimate setting is part of a much corporate system, but most importantly explores both the human connection and the significance of communication and understanding between doctors and patients. There is a level of physical contact and genuine compassion that very sadly seems to have depreciated over the years.

The film may well be 46-years old, but through its raw emotional power and relevance to contemporary medical (and social) issues, Hospital still has the power to absorb, amuse and emotionally drain.

Frailty, suffering and redemption; all aspects of the human condition are vividly on display across a tapestry of cultural demographics, though Wiseman thankfully cuts the emotional intensity with a number of light-hearted and almost comedic sequences. In treatment rooms patients and families nervously prepare themselves for the worst and doctors and nurses frustratedly battle against bureaucratic hurdles in the sole interest of their patients’ wellbeing. However, just down the hallway students and teachers comically dissect and handle human brains as if they were mere lumps of marshmallow, and elsewhere we see a man being fed ipecac and projectile vomiting for what seems like an age in absurd and near farcical fashion.

Interestingly Wiseman’s earlier works such as Hospital and his most celebrated achievement Titicut Follies feel significantly more dramatic and confrontational in contrast to his longer and more laid back recent films. It is of course very difficult to work out whether this change in tone was an artistic decision or one naturally developed based on the situations and institutions explored. Whatever the case the films still make for essential and always fascinating viewing, and serve as vital time-capsules of the often disappeared worlds they were produced in.

Without directly passing judgement, Wiseman paints a searing portrait of the continuing battle between human frailty  and the greed of the corporate system.

For more information on the film, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

Presented by Zipporah Films and Blaq Out in partnership with Doc & Film and UniversCiné, Hospital was restored in a 35 mm copy by the Library of Congress from original camera negatives in the Zipporah Films Collection.

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